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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

What is the Unforgivable Sin?

March 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Grace, Sin, Spiritual Direction

Dear Father John, I’ve heard that God forgives all sins. But, I’ve also heard something about an “unforgivable sin”. It seems there’s a contradiction there. What is that all about? Is there really a sin that God won’t forgive? And, what happens if I commit that? What do I do then?

for post on the unforgiveable sinThis probably is a reference to the following Gospel passage: “Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). Here is how the Catechism explains this passage: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (CCC 1864).

FaucetThe basic idea is simple. God’s mercy is infinite. He is always willing and able to forgive us. But he won’t force his forgiveness upon us. If we refuse to accept the grace that God offers us (and this grace is always offered through the Holy Spirit) then we cannot benefit from that grace. We are free to refuse the gifts that God offers us. That is the “unforgivable sin.” But it is not unforgivable because God’s mercy is limited. Rather, it’s unforgivable because of our refusal to accept God’s forgiveness. The faucet of God’s mercy always works, so to speak, but to get the cleansing water we need to turn it on.

It is worth recalling that we may reject God’s action or turn away from him at one point in our lives, and then repent and turn back to him later. As soon as we turn back, humbly repentant and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, God’s mercy will touch and renew us. The only way that we will be forever separated from God’s love is if we stubbornly and consistently for post on the unforgivable sinrefuse the invitations of his grace (the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives) up to the moment of our death. Here again is how the Catechism puts it: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end” (CCC 1037).

Practically, this means that we all must humbly and joyfully continue to seek a deeper knowledge of God and a constant obedience to his commandments and inspirations. For this, prayer, study, the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession), and good Christian fellowship are all critical. If you want to reflect a little bit more on the reality of sin in general, you may find my video conference on this topic useful. It is called “The Anatomy of Sin.”

I hope this helps. God bless you!
In Him, Fr. John

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Art: Christ the King Catholic Church (Ann Arbor, Michigan) – interior Holy Spirit window, Nheyob, 5 August 2013, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; Unusual faucet, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington, Joe Mabel, 30 March 2013, CC-SA; Interior Scene [Confession], Jean Alphonse Roehn (1799-1864), unknown date, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, PD-Worldwide; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • rhonda

    I was taught that , ” the sin of Judas, despair” was the one unforgivable sin.

    • LizEst

      That’s essentially what Father is saying here. God forgives all sin…except the sin that does not accept that God will forgive. That’s what despair is. Despair abandons hope in God.

      • If someone despairs like Judas while holding very tightly onto a crucifix, is that still despair? There is still hope in God right? Despite the circumstances?

        • LizEst

          Yes, there is absolutely still hope in God (assuming this was not presumption on their part). That person is holding on for dear life! Literally! God understands their heart. And, God only needs the tiniest, tiniest, tiniest little bit of hope in Him to save someone.

          You may recall that we have the historical example of how St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and her sisters, prayed for the criminal Henri Pranzini. At the very last moment before his execution, he kissed the crucifix and Thérèse understood this as a sign of his conversion. We also have the example of the good thief on the cross next to Jesus. Christ said to him — today, you will be with me in Paradise.

  • SnowCherryBlossoms

    I always think of Peter and Judas, both betrayed Christ and Peter trusted Jesus to forgive him and became the first Pope while Judas despaired and hung himself. This is such an amazing comparison! God is so good and so generous with His forgiveness!

  • Pingback: Musings on Mercy | Letters from Elena()

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